What happened in Srebrenica?

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:10 am IST

Published - July 23, 2014 07:00 pm IST

On July 11, 2014 nearly 175 bodies of victims of the Srebrenica massacre were reburied in the Potocari compound in Bosnia to mark the 19th anniversary of the incident.

A week later, a court in Netherlands ruled that the state was responsible for the deaths of 300 and more Bosnian Muslims killed in the Srebrenica massacre. The victims’ families had brought a case against the Dutch government for failing to protect their families during the incident. What exactly happened in Srebrenica in 1995?

A brief history

Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, announced its independence in 1992. Coming close on the heels of the declarations of independence by Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, Bosnia’s independence brought in its wake large-scale fighting among its people.

A melting pot of different ethnicities and nationalities, Bosnia’s majority population was Muslims. It also had sizeable populations of Croats and Serbs. It was natural, therefore, that following the collapse of Yugoslavia, bitter rivals Croatia and Serbia supported people of their nationality in Bosnia.

While the Yugoslav National Army supported the Bosnian Serb Army, the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, comprising mostly of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs) was the major armed force of Bosnia and also received arms support from Croatia.

Bosnia was soon divided into enclaves of Bosnian Muslim population surrounded by armies of Bosnian Serbs. These isolated pockets of civilians were constantly targeted by the Bosnian Serb army which led to drastic consequences in the town of Srebrenica.


Close to the border with Serbia, Srebrenica is a mountainous valley region in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It had a vast population of Bosnian Muslims and was captured by the Serbian Army in 1991. The Bosnian Muslims gained control of Srebrenica for a brief period in 1992, but the Serbs soon retaliated launching a counter offensive in the region.

In 1993, after a prolonged fighting, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was deployed to Srebrenica to take control of the situation. The UN security council, then described regions of Bosnia, including Srebrenica, Bihac, Gorazde, Sarajevo and several others as ‘safe areas’ under the protection of its forces.

The Dutchbat

In the safe area of Srebrenica, soldiers from the Netherlands called the Dutchbat were deployed as part of the UNPROFOR. They established several checkpoints around the region, with the headquarters in Potocari.

In mid-1995 the Serbian Army surrounding the enclave soon started restricting humanitarian aid to Srebrenica. They started pressing forward and taking control of several Dutchbat monitoring stations.

The period between July 6 and July 11 turned especially critical with several observation posts of the Dutchbat falling and several thousand people displaced in the process. Many Bosnian Muslims even took shelter in the Potocari compound during this period.

In July, 1995 after several meetings with the Dutchbat soldiers and Ratko Mladic of the Bosnian Serb Army an agreement to evacuate the civilians from the region was reached.

However, it was not certain if all civilians who were transported by the Bosnian Serbs were under safe hands or were treated properly. Many reports and eyewitness accounts later emerged of how the Serbian army had taken many of the refugees to unknown locations and tortured, raped and killed them. The victims included men, women, children who were buried in mass graves after being shot down in the most brutal fashion.

During the evacuation, the Dutchbat soldiers were in a vulnerable position. The soldiers, while playing a key role in the evacuation, in actuality could not keep an effective tab on them during the process as they were transported in Bosnian Serb trucks and were under the control of the Serbian Army.

Also continuous delay in the deployment of air power by the UN to support the Dutchbat soldiers proved fatal to the civilian population in the end.

The Bosnian war ended with NATO’s intervention and a U.S.- brokered peace deal in Geneva in November 1995. A bloody affair in itself, the Srebrenica massacre was perhaps one that shook the international community the most and continues to haunt its people even 19 years later.

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